Comment: Put food back at the nation’s heart

It is the farming industry that shapes the land, says Richard Pearson.
It is the farming industry that shapes the land, says Richard Pearson.
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If your house is anything like ours with three young children, you will be used to the never-ending demand for food – hopefully with a ‘please’ thrown in somewhere.

Even Honey, our dog, constantly looks at you as if someone has forgotten her breakfast. For my kids and a large proportion of our society food is increasingly taken for granted, seen as an infinite commodity that’s constantly available 24/7.

Richard Pearson is regional director of the NFU in the North East.

Richard Pearson is regional director of the NFU in the North East.

Worryingly in contrast, there is an increasing section of the community that cannot take a meal for granted with a reported one million people now relying on food banks.

Surely, therefore, it must be a priority for our new Conservative Government to put food and farming back on the national curriculum, ensuring people understand how food arrives on their tables and know how to prepare it healthily and cheaply.

Interestingly, food companies such as Aunt Bessie’s are already working to help educate children about food production by funding the buses needed for farm visits.

Supermarket price wars coupled with last year’s favourable global growing conditions have led inexorably to lower farm gate prices across all sectors. The result is a step decline in farm incomes highlighted in the ‘total income from farming’ (TIFF) figures just released by Defra.

These show that farm incomes have fallen in real terms by 4.4 per cent. The farmers and growers of this country produce food to the highest quality and welfare standards, they are well aware of the challenges ahead of them to feed growing populations both home and abroad and are more than up for it but like any other business they need to be profitable if they are to invest for the future.

To ensure this happens Liz Truss the retained Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs needs to put the right policies in place and the NFU believes that means introducing a comprehensive agri-food strategy that will help the industry grow UK food production and reverse our downward trend in food self-sufficiency.

How different the countryside would look without the farming industry busily rebuilding stone walls, cutting hedges and managing crops and livestock. There is a real possibility that plants such as oilseed rape – currently in full bloom – will cease to be financially viable, without access to the plant protection products needed to ensure a healthy, productive crop.

For our country’s long-term food security our government must be prepared to stand up and make the tough but right decisions, not settle for the softer short-term option.

Our food and farming industry is a national success story. The sector provides more than 3.5 million jobs, and has shown resilience and growth during the recession, contributing around £13bn of food and non-alcoholic drink related exports every year.

What is needed now is long-term ambition for the sector’s growth, sending the right business signals to our farmers to enable them to plan ahead.

Richard Pearson is regional director of the National Farmers’ Union in North East.